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Sustainable Life: Eight gifts that are easy to make

Mia Swainson

I’ve forgotten another important birthday again. Help!

I’ve just got time to get to the shops and grab a bottle of wine or some chocolate. There’ll be a gift, a token. Mass produced. At least I remembered something!

Gifts are my way of letting friends know that they’re special to me. They say thank you for brightening my world. Thank you for having my children when I had to work.

I like gifts to say “thank you” from my heart. So what better way to do this, than to make my gift at home? It’s an easy way to infuse love into every gift. Best of all, there are plenty of simple gifts that you can make in bulk. No more last minute trips to the shops, just grab something from the cupboard that already comes with love!

Making gifts at home is also better for the planet. You can reuse materials and source ingredients locally. Beautiful!

Here are eight fresh ideas for gifts that you can make at home.

Strawberry Jam

Scones with jam and cream and sponge cake with jam filling, delicious!

Strawberry jam is the best. Here’s how I make it. Firstly, pick-up a tray of jam making strawberries at the EPIC Farmer’s markets for $10.

Trim and wash the strawberries, then roughly chop them up and put them into a saucepan. Add an equal weight of sugar, the peel from a lemon and Jamsetta. Adjust the amount of Jamsetta to the weight of your fruit and sugar. Bring this mixture to the boil for 5 – 10 mins, skim off the ‘froth’ and bottle in sterilised jars.

If it doesn’t set, don’t worry… it’s strawberry pancake syrup!

Lemon butter

Vintage. Chic. Love it!

Easier to make than you think… I made my first batch aged 10. The trick is patience.

Firstly, prepare ½ cup lemon juice, two teaspoons of grated lemon rind and 125 g of cubed butter. Set them aside. Then whisk 4 eggs with ¾ cup of castor sugar on top of a double boiler. Keep whisking until they’re well combined and the mixture thickens (this is the patience bit). Then, as soon as the mixture thickens, add the lemon juice, lemon rind and butter. Whisk until it’s well combined. Bottle and store in the fridge.

Best eaten with strawberries and cream.

Caramelised balsamic vinegar

Amazing on salads or vegetables. It’s strong, sweet and easy to make. Bring three cups of balsamic vinegar to the boil. Stir through two cups of brown sugar, then reduce to a simmer.

Simmer for 30 – 40 mins, until the mixture has reduced by half. Place in small, sterilised bottles.

Gingerbread

This is a staple children’s’ gift in our house, especially at Christmas time. I have found that almost any age can infuse their love by stirring, pouring or cutting out shapes.

Our standard gingerbread recipe involves combining 125g of melted butter with half a cup of brown sugar and an egg. We then stir through 2 ½ cups of plain flour, 1 tablespoon of ground ginger and 1 teaspoon of mixed spices. This kneads into a dough that we let rest for 30 minutes, before rolling it out and cutting shapes. Hearts and stars are my favourite.

Beeswax sandwich wraps

These brilliant wraps are a reusable substitute for plastic wrap. Larger wraps have an incredible ability to extend the life of preservative free sour dough. I reuse clothing or sheets as the base material. A thinly woven cotton works best.

Cut your material to sandwich wrap size. Then grate your beeswax, using a kitchen grater. I source my beeswax from the Win’s Creek Meadery or the ANU Food Co-op.

Working carefully, place your cut material on top of a sheet of baking paper. Sprinkle the grated beeswax on top, so that the material is loosely covered in grated wax. Place a second sheet of beeswax on top of the grated wax. Run a medium iron over the top of the second sheet of baking paper to melt the beeswax into the material. Take care that the melted wax doesn’t drip outside your baking paper layers and onto an ironing board or your iron.

For a small wrap (18cmx18cm) I use about 15g of bee’s wax. A great way to keep the love coming from a favourite blouse that has worn too thin.

Shopping bag

A perfect beginner sewing project or a quick, easy project for people with experience. My favourite way to start is with fabric that needs a second life at home. Alternatively, the Green Shed or op shops have a great selection of fabrics available free or at very low cost. Curtain or upholstery materials can give you a great base for upcycling.

If you need a pattern, there’s a heap available online. Here’s a link to a free, simple pattern that comes with instructions. There’s some fabulous creative inspiration out there too, with people making shopping bags by upcycling t-shirts and jeans.

Pot of herbs

Nothing says abundance better than a pot overflowing with greenery. Plant seeds in October to give a pot of herbs to friends at Christmas time. I reuse pots from around our home, fill them with a combination of garden soil and worm casings, then plant a heap of seeds on top.

Basil, coriander and parsley are all easy to grow. They also produce a nice bushel. You’ll need to remember to water the pots – about three times each week – so place them somewhere that you walk past regularly. Seedlings are truly a gift of love. Cultivated by hand, nurtured as they grow and flourish!

Micro greens

This is the fast, hipster version of a seedling gift. You’ll need a shallow, wide tray… or a wider pot. Prepare a rich, well drained soil from around your garden or source commercial potting mix. Then cover the top of the soil with seeds – I mean really cover it! Because the seeds will be harvested young, you can plant seedlings really close together. Favourite microgreens include red cabbage, rocket, basil, coriander and English spinach. Sprinkle a thin layer of soil on top of your layer of seeds. Water your seeds regularly. In late spring and summer, micro greens are ready 4-6 weeks after you sow the seeds.

Gifts that come infused with love are the best kind. What better way to love the planet and your friends than by making gifts at home!

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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